Sayuri Fujita makes waves in S. Korea with artificial pregnancy

Posted on : 2020-11-18 18:36 KST Modified on : 2020-11-18 18:36 KST
Japanese-born celebrity sparks debate about artificial insemination rights in S. Korea
Sayuri Fujita on her YouTube channel. (YouTube screenshot)
Sayuri Fujita on her YouTube channel. (YouTube screenshot)

The issue of unmarried women choosing to undergo artificial insemination and give birth is triggering a heated response in South Korea amid reports that Sayuri Fujita, a 41-year-old Japanese media personality based in South Korea, gave birth in Japan following an overseas sperm donation.

In a Nov. 16 message on her Instagram page, Fujita wrote, “On Nov. 4, I became a mother to my son.”

“I would like to thank everyone. I plan to live my life for my son,” she added.

Fujita has never married, but wanted to raise a child. To conceive her child, she received a donation from an overseas sperm bank. The same day, she appeared on the KBS network sharing her experience with becoming an unwed mother, stressing that she hopes to be a “proud mother.”

“I thought about it, and I couldn’t see myself rushing to find and marrying someone I didn’t love,” she said. “In Korea, everything’s illegal. Only married people can do a test tube [procedure].”

The response in South Korea to news of a female entertainer becoming an unwed mother is quite different from the frequent condemnation it drew in the past. Despite a strict social climate when it comes to marriage outside of wedlock, Fujita’s choice has drawn an outpouring of congratulations and support. Around 2,400 congratulatory messages were posted on her Instagram page. The situation also appeared influenced by an increasingly vocal debate about the rights of women to choose to be impregnated or terminate a pregnancy amid the recent controversy over legislation to replace the current criminalization of abortion.

A scene from the film “Maggie’s Plan.” (Sony Pictures Classics screenshot)
A scene from the film “Maggie’s Plan.” (Sony Pictures Classics screenshot)

On Nov. 17, Kim Soon-nam, representative of the Institute for the Rights to Found Family, said, “Sayuri spoke quite correctly, making it clear that women are the agents when it comes to pregnancy and the choice to terminate pregnancy.”

Like Fujita, a number of other women would like to have a child but are not attracted by the idea of marriage. In South Korea, legal and institutional support centers on children born to married spouses in a legally recognized union. South Korea ranks lowest among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for its childbirth rate among couples who are not legally recognized as spouses. OECD statistics for unwed childbirth in 2018 showed rates of 2.2% for South Korea and 2.3% for Japan; the average for the OECD as a whole was 40.7%.

As a rule, South Korea’s Bioethics and Safety Act and other legislation prohibit impregnation outside of the marital framework through the donation of sperm. For a woman to receive a sperm donation for the purpose of impregnation, she must have the consent of both a legally recognized spouse and the male donor. In contrast, countries like the US, the UK, and Sweden permit the donation of sperm to unmarried women.

The growing number of women in South Korea who are seeking to raise a child outside of marriage has prompted a debate over how laws and institutions can accommodate more diverse forms of family. The argument is that as a society that views only lawfully recognized marital unions as “normal,” South Korea cannot hope to resolve its low birth rate issue unless it recognizes childbirth by unmarried mothers and cohabiting couples. During the 19th and 20th National Assemblies, “life partnership legislation” was sponsored with terms that would extend legal recognition to different forms of family.

A photo of Sayuri Fujita on her Instagram account
A photo of Sayuri Fujita on her Instagram account
Support for Sayuri from S. Korean politicians

This has drawn a response from politicians. Han Jeoung-ae, who chairs the Democratic Party’s policy committee, addressed the issue in a floor countermeasures meeting on Nov. 17.

“Sayuri gave birth through sperm donation. She became a single mother by choice,” she noted.

“We all need to work together to make the Republic of Korea where the child will be growing up into a more open society. The National Assembly will play that role,” she added.

In a social media post, Justice Party deputy leader Bae Bok-joo wrote, “In South Korea, lawful support for pregnancy and childbirth is only available to women who have entered the institutional framework."

“Would politicians have congratulated Sayuri if she were Korean?” she asked.

In an interview with KBS, Fujita shared a message calling for the recognition of all female reproductive rights concerning pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing.

“These days, you hear people calling for recognition of abortion,” she said. “If you turn that around, what I want is for people to recognize having a child. I hope people will recognize not just abortion, but also having a child.”

By Kim Mi-hyang and Lim Jae-woo, staff reporters

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